Courage and Dignity
It is an honour to write an introduction to this very timely and wonderfully produced volume which combines the visual art of photography with a narrative of the people and places touched by the death penalty to highlight the situation of the death penalty and promote some arguments. As former Director General of UNESCO, I have found art and culture to be a very effective, visual, creative and yet powerful means to engage, provoke and spread awareness of many sensitive issues including the death penalty. Noting this link, on 25 January 2018, the International Commission against the Death Penalty (ICDP or the Commission), of which I was the founding President from 2010 to 2017 and currently am the Honorary President, co-organized a round table panel discussion titled “Dead Man Walking: culture of violence, death penalty and redemption.” The round table featured the participation of Sister Helen Prejean and was organized at the Teatro Real in Madrid on the eve of the premiere staging of the opera version of her book Dead Man Walking. It was a great success as art combined with policy makers, survivors, activists in highlighting the concerns
on the issue of the death penalty.
I am happy to introduce this book by the author Sofia Moro as it is a culmination of her hard work and belief. ICDP and I are fortunate to have been involved from the beginning when she approached me with the initial idea of this book and, as President of ICDP, I wrote a recommendation letter to the BBVA in April 2016, who graciously funded this work. I am also happy to note that this book covers the stories of brave individuals, survivors, places and the brutal impact they have had of capital punishment in the USA, in Japan, in Belarus, in Malawi and in Iran thereby covering all regions of the world. In the chapters, the book highlights those found innocent of the death penalty highlighting the fear that innocent persons face the death penalty and can be executed. And they have been. In the USA, over 160 persons have been found to be innocent over the years, some of whom have faced the death penalty for decades. In Japan, there is the case of a sister fighting for her brother who faced the death penalty for over three decades and a half and finally he has been released. In Belarus, the families are not informed of the execution until it has been carried out and even afterwards they are not informed where they are buried. The death penalty erodes human dignity, it is a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and constitutes torture. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (EU) clearly states in its Article N.2 that “No one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed,” as it respects the right to life of every person. Interestingly, Article 1 of the Charter states the inviolability of human dignity and that it should be respected and promoted, and Article 3 highlights the Right to Integrity of the Person, including the right not to be tortured.
In ICDP´s experience, political leadership is key to moving a country away from the death penalty. My fellow Commissioners at ICDP –21 in total– are all high-profile personalities including former presidents, prime ministers, government ministers, senior UN officials, a former USA State governor, former judges, several leading legal scholars and academics. They represent all regions of the world, demonstrating that abolition of the death penalty is a global concern and not the cause of a particular region, political system, religion, culture or tradition. The Commission is supported by a geographically diverse group of 19 countries and 3 Observer States who are all committed to the abolition of the death penalty. In the course of our work, we meet or are in touch with leaders of countries that carry out executions and discuss the issue of death penalty and its abolition highlighting the importance of political leadership. ICDP´s Commissioners are well positioned as they have themselves often led abolition of the death penalty in their state or country and internationally, and hence ICDP´s approach has been one of experience-sharing, discussing often quietly about the lack
of deterrence of this punishment, its arbitrary, irreversible and discriminatory nature that affects more those who are marginalized, poor and powerless, with little means to properly defend themselves in court. We still have work to do. At this moment, over 21,900 persons are under sentence of death, and last year over 1,600 executions were carried out by 23 countries.
However, there is hope as 107 States around the world have abolished the death penalty for all crimes. According to the UN, some 160 States have either abolished the death penalty or do not practice it. As this book cries out through its every page, every photograph, the death penalty has no place in today’s world. If there is anything that can and should unite all States, despite their differences, it ought to be the shared understanding that the death penalty is wrong and should no longer be tolerated by the civilized world. No culture or tradition today can justify the official and systematic taking of human life. It is a denial of the most fundamental of human rights, the right to life, and it constitutes the most brutal expression of revenge and power by a State. The fundamental right to life is enshrined in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose 70th anniversary we are observing this year, where it clearly states that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” It is time we moved away from the death penalty and in this move this book is an important, visually rich voice in building a strong narrative and set of arguments highlighting the human cost and suffering of this punishment and, within this discourse, uncovering true heroes and survivors who, despite being victims of the inhuman system of capital punishment, have fought and shown their courage and human dignity.
Federico Mayor Zaragoza
Honorary President of the International Commission against the Death Penalty (ICDP).